LONDON -- When you live abroad for a long time, you tend to identify certain cultural objects that anchor you with a sense of home. They are the things that -- for better or for worse -- come to signify "America."
It might be a diner that serves all-day brunch. Or the blissful simplicity of a tumble dryer. Or -- depending on your politics -- the meteoric rise of a Mama Grizzly politician or a musician for whom the public is Gaga
For me, that cultural touchstone has always been Target
, the iconic superstore of highways and strip malls across America, where you can buy everything from toothpaste to DVD players. Whenever we go back to the States, my husband and I devote an entire day to shopping at Target.
We even have a running "Target list" on our computer, to which we add items regularly throughout the year.
In fact, I'd say that my feelings toward Target border on the patriotic. (Which is saying something, given that my patriotism rarely extends beyond listening to the odd Woody Guthrie lyric
). I don't mean this in the simplistic way that George W. Bush once famously exhorted Americans to go shopping
in the aftermath of 9/11 in order to boost the national mood. No.
For me, Target embodies America at its very best. It combines the elegant efficiency of a Fordist economic model
that marries mass production to mass consumption alongside a democratic ideal that caters to all shoppers -- high- and low-brow alike -- in one fell swoop. In an economic sense, Target is the very essence of that clichéd, but compelling, melting pot that defines our national narrative.
But now a pall has been cast over my abiding love of the chain. In case you haven't heard, Target donated $150,000 to a group supporting an anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate
. In response, gay rights advocates and grassroots liberal organizations like MoveOn.org have mounted a fierce campaign against the company. They are urging Americans to boycott Target until it ceases funding "anti-gay" politics.
The boycott raises a real dilemma for liberals like myself, as my colleague Sandra Fish astutely noted in an essay on this topic
. One the one hand, it's hard to match Target in terms of the breadth, quality and -- it must be said -- aesthetic appeal of its layout. Kmart and Walmart just don't cut it. On the other hand, it's also hard to feel good about shopping there if you're at all sympathetic to gay rights. As a friend of mine put it on Facebook: "If they're going to support partner benefits and the like for their employees, they should support politicians who would do the same for all Americans."
As an American living in London, I feel this dilemma particularly acutely.
You see, despite being one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, they tend to do things kind of old school over here. There's a quaint attachment to village life, which can be really irritating when you're in the mood to purchase the industrial-sized Saran wrap, the Amy Winehouse CD and
the Frosted Pop-Tarts (yes, I still eat those) all at once. To get something even approximating a superstore like Target, you practically need to leave the city entirely. Until recently, the closest thing in my neighborhood was a Woolworth's
(remember them?), which had its own '70s retro charm, to be sure, but felt positively pre-historic when it came to bargain shopping.
Which is one among many reasons I was so looking forward to going home at Christmas for our annual Target run. Now, like an old lover whom you need to un-friend on Facebook
, I guess I'll have to suck it up and go to Kmart instead. Sigh.
There is a silver lining, however. Just this week, a landmark court decision over-ruled the 2008 ballot initiative -- Proposition 8 -- that banned same-sex marriage in California
. Meanwhile, across the country in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is standing up to those who oppose the building of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero on the grounds that what makes our country great is precisely its commitment to tolerance and freedom of expression
So maybe there's a reason to be patriotic after all. God Bless America.
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